Monday, May 1, 2017

ORIGINAL FICTION: When Elsewhere is Everywhere

a story

by JC Hemphill

Maddie was ready to explode. 
Today was the day of days, the one she’d anticipated since last season’s finale, the day that would allow her to cross off the sole item on her bucket list. The day, she knew, that would mark the highest of highs in a lifetime comprised of far too many lows.
She grabbed her phone from the nightstand as soon as she woke up, opened the media app, and selected the page for her favorite TV show, Elsewhere. Part of her suspected the new season wouldn’t be up. She’d dreamed the show had been canceled. But it was right there where it belonged, accompanied by a new picture of the cast huddled around a campfire, the dark wilderness closing in on them, pressing them closer to the cone of firelight illuminating their haggard faces.
It was official: Season 9 of Elsewhere was ready to binge.
And what a season it promised to be! Considering the way Season 8 ended, with Malcolm on the verge of insanity, with the wastelanders launching a massive attack on the colony, with Petra and Anna-May finally—finally—admitting their love for one another and then seeing the torches of the invasion force as it descended on the colony from the surrounding mountains, a love connection that came just a little too late.
It’d been too much for Maddie. She’d spent weeks after that cliffhanger brooding. Almost lost her hospitality gig because she’d grown so sour over the unresolved tension.
But eventually she turned her thoughts to Season 9 and formulated a plan—an epic plan that turned her brooding into excitement—and here, today, that plan was coming to life.
She could hardly keep still.
As if fate was rooting for her, the bullet train system the government spent years constructing had been completed last week. She’d feared it wouldn’t be done in time and that she’d have to drive the whole way, but they did it. Now as she boarded the 8:15 train to Estes Park, Colorado, she would reach her destination in an hour.
As soon as she found a seat on the crowded train, she pulled her phone out and selected the media app. Once more she studied the cover image of her favorite characters huddled around a campfire. Tyler looked particularly good. Handsome and rugged, per usual. But crouching next to him, like a fat, ugly spider, was Eldritch, the scum responsible for betraying the colony’s location to the wastelanders. Eight seasons the colonists remained hidden from the feral tribes littering the mountains. Eight seasons! And for what? To be betrayed by that coward? Disgusting!
Maddie wished all the pain and misery in Elsewhere on Eldritch. Hopefully he died. Or worse, she hoped the wastelanders decided to make him their next meal. Like they had of poor Jonas way back in Season 3.
The train began moving. Somebody wearing earbuds had taken the seat next to her, and, not all that surprising since it was the number one show in America, he was watching Elsewhere on his phone.
Maddie looked away, fearing spoilers.
Across the aisle from him, a woman and her son pressed their heads together, peering down at one of the new SS-HD tablets. They too were watching Elsewhere. In fact, everyone Maddie could see was staring down at brightly lit screens, the colors dancing across their faces like the firelight from the new season's cover image.
She wanted to watch it so bad she felt a pang in her stomach. Yet her plan was to wait until she reached her destination. It would be hard—dang near impossible, that pang told her—but rewarding. Because she was on her way to Elsewhere itself. She’d discovered where they filmed the show, a valley outside Estes Park, and would spend her day in Elsewhere watching Elsewhere.
Her roommate—the only person in the world who loathed television—had compared Maddie’s plan to a pilgrimage.
Maddie had been insulted at first, but the more she thought about it, the more she realized there was nothing wrong with that. Lending this day that sort of spiritual significance was poetic. And true, really. If Maddie worshipped anyone, it would probably be Wanda Bilks, the writer and creator of Elsewhere.
So yeah, this was a pilgrimage.
But there was a problem. Her eyes wouldn’t stop wandering to other people’s screens. She kept catching glimpses. Eldritch skulking through shadowy undergrowth; Anna-May pointing to something behind Petra; an explosion.
Did somebody blow up the habitat!?
It couldn’t be . . .
Maddie turned her phone back on and, with a trembling finger, played the first episode of Season 9.
As the opening credits rolled, accompanied by that sad, iconic strumming of a fiddle, Maddie experienced a deep sense of coming home. That was the best way to describe the flighty sensation in her chest—like returning to a home she never wanted to leave in the first place.
Happy tears filled her eyes.
This was it . . .
She turned off the phone. After waiting this long, she couldn’t surrender now. So she tried looking out the window at the Kansas landscape zipping by. But Kansas was flat and boring. No will-they-or-won’t-they love affairs took place outside that window, no tense stand-offs between colonists and wastelanders, no exploding habitats (Cripes, is that really what happened?).  Just the azure and emerald meeting of land and sky.
She turned the phone back on and pulled up Season 1 to re-watch the pilot. Soon, her anxiety melted away, replaced by that coming-home feeling.
She exhaled. It was almost—maybe this was a bit dramatic, but oh well—it was almost like a heroin addict greeting the day’s first high.
The second episode was just starting when the train stopped. She looked up to see half the car empty. People had debarked without her noticing and since she wasn’t sure how much time she had before it started rolling again, she scrambled off. But leaving the train didn’t slow her down; she sprinted to the nearest bus stop, checked the sign to make sure she was in the right place, and waited. Knowing it was another ten minutes before the number 17 arrived, she dove back into the show.
Even on the sixth viewing, Season 1 held up nicely. She caught things she hadn’t noticed the first five times. Like how Eldritch (still a good guy at this point) sometimes let his gaze linger on Mary-Ann a little too long. Had he coveted her even then?
She didn’t bother looking away from the screen when the bus arrived. Somehow she found a seat and somehow—another sign that fate was her companion—she managed to pull the cord to stop the bus at the right time, all without missing a single line of dialog.
She did, however, tear her gaze away when she exited the bus. There must’ve been seven zillion pine trees lining this stretch of road and she needed to find a dirt path tucked between them somewhere. That’s what the fanzine that revealed the filming location said.
After searching in both directions for a few yards, she found the path. It was wide and easy to spot when she stood before it.
Nearly there, she thought.
Proceeding down that corridor of trees, listening to the crunching of pine needles under foot, the sough caressing the branches, the chirping of birds, Maddie felt as if she were floating through a pine-scented dream. At the end of the path, she came upon a lake that reflected the many mountain peaks enclosing it. Just like in the show. To the left was a large boulder—Fishing Rock, the colonists called it. Again, it looked exactly as in the show. She watched as a hawk slid across the sky, dipping low over the water, presumably seeking a trout to snatch, before ascending once more, talons empty, and vanishing beyond the treetops.
Maddie, still floating, went to Fishing Rock and sat upon it. She might’ve stayed there consuming the entirety of Season 9, in the very spot Petra had finally—finally—kissed Mary-Ann, if not for the serenity of this place lulling her every sense. For no matter how clean the cinematography, no matter how HD the screen, the show had never revealed such vibrance. Never had she smelled the sweet aromas of nature, never had she felt the cool mountain air on her skin, never had she seen her own face reflected in the waters.
It never occurred to her that elsewhere—or anything outside her living room—could feel so essentially spiritual. It was just a place, after all. Yet this place felt like coming home, too.
So she sat upon her rock and just absorbed it all. Eventually she took a stroll around the lake, just her, her thoughts, and that soothing breeze.
The show, it seemed, could wait another day.